Starting with the direction, Hitchcock made this a veritable thrill-ride by the use of all sorts of techniques and style. Noir in one, making the most of the black and white, very smart lighting, shadows and highlights bringing out enhanced impact of the terror and screwed-up Norman Bates. The Gus Van Sant remake has been shot very differently and although there are nods to the earlier work, the atmosphere and style is not recreated in anything like the same way. It's been traded in for bright colours and a style of it's own, even though the remake is supposedly near scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot (with some meanderings).
One of the missing elements is Anthony Perkins' deeply scarred and sinister 'look and feel' of the Norman Bates character by Vince Vaughan. Many have said that he was simply the wrong choice to be cast into the role and to some degree I think that's valid as he plays it quite differently. The director doesn't squeeze out anywhere near as much suspense and terror from the central character like in the first, rather introducing an element of sexual perversion instead. I'm not saying he did a bad job, it's just that Hitchcock would have got more from him in his earlier style.
Another way in which Hitchcock captivated the audience was via the music and sound. Watching the original again this week, it was clear that it played a very large part in the thrill. Especially in the famous shower scene, but also throughout with the wild screaming violins doing something for the soundtrack, blending with the action, that even the amazingly talented Danny Elfman couldn't match in the remake's arrangements.
The cast in the new one is actually very good and in some ways, Anne Heche does a better job than Janet Leigh. In fact, she's excellent. But, again, there's that one element missing, which Hitchcock just seemed to know how to draw out from his actors, blending together his vision with their ability. Julianne Moore, I thought was a more convincing character than Vera Miles as Marion's sister and again, the same for William H Macy playing the private eye over Martin Balsam. It was great to see the late Robert Forster pop up as the psychiatrist explaining what was going on at the end, again, certainly doing a better job than Simon Oakland.
Swinging back the other way, Viggo Mortensen was presented as almost a joke-character with his outrageous southern drawl (seemingly introduced for no reason). John Gavin playing Sam previously was much more convincing. Pop up performances by James Le Gros and James Remar were great in the remake and although perhaps missing some of the tone of the original, I was probably drawn more to their performances knowing them as actors.
The first Psycho was made before I was born, but the cast back then was also a strong one. I have enjoyed watching how Hitchcock drew out the best in his cast for decades now, even though many of his films were shot before my time. I wrote about Strangers on a Train, Spellbound, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dial M for Murder and a brief look at his work with James Stewart and Rear Window, reflecting my appreciation of the man and how he could thrill an audience. Psycho was no exception.
However, I did also think that the remake had many things going for it apart from what I have said above and I wouldn't slate it, as many have, as a complete write-off and waste of time. It's always going to be difficult to emulate the work of a master and most who will have seen the original work will have loved it, so a remake maybe didn't stand a chance with many.
I tried very hard to approach this with an open mind. I watched the new one first, then the old - and was happy to be swung either way on it. I have to say that I enjoyed the old one more. It felt more authentic, believable and realistic - convincing as a storyline pulled together by a genius director using expert tools for stunning impact. I enjoyed the remake also, very much, but it's just not the same! Why not give them both a go, afresh, like I did. Then there's Psycho II and Psycho III of course!